By Keith McShea
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
I’ve seen the tweets. I’ve heard the opinions. I’ve read the comments online (holding my nose as I did so).
There are people who think that the Westfield/Brocton football team should still play this season, should rally around the late Damon Janes under Friday Night Lights, should use him as an inspiration and get back on the field.
It’s easy to say those things from afar (and especially easy from a keyboard via an anonymous comment at the bottom of a story on a website), but I’d defer to those going through these toughest of times to make that call.
I emailed Westfield superintendent David Davison about the thought process that went into canceling the rest of the football season Monday, one week after Janes, a junior, died from an injury suffered during Westfield/Brocton’s Sept. 13 game at Portville.
I wanted to make sure that the idea to call off the rest of the season for Janes’ 27 teammates, including 13 seniors, was one that germinated from the team itself and not from the top down.
“The recommendation to cancel the season came after consideration of the deep grief our communities have experienced and the impact of Damon’s passing on this team,” Davison stated via email. “My recommendation to the board was based on discussions with our players, coaches and administration from both schools.”
This is an exceptionally heartbreaking situation, one that has understandably drawn attention nationwide.
If the team were to carry on, television cameras would have been there. This newspaper, and others, would have been there. I’d like to think all of us would do our job very respectfully, but even the mere presence of the media would create an additional issue for a team and two communities that are going through unprecedented grief.
Sure, perhaps some young people could handle that kind of situation. But perhaps some might not. And then there’s the question of should they have to?
The superintendent raised that issue, unprompted, in his statement.
“The players and coaches have shown such strength and courage during this time and are grieving the loss of a friend and teammate,” Davison said. “The decision to not field a varsity football team for the remainder of the season will allow this team to remain together and heal in private – away from the bright lights and public eye.”
Westfield/Brocton plays in Class D, the smallest of five classifications, and Section VI’s division is one of the best leagues in the state (it has produced four of the last eight state champions). Of Janes’ 27 teammates listed on the Westfield/Brocton roster, which is the smallest of the six teams in the league, 10 are freshmen or sophomores. If there were any hesitation by the team to return to the field, or if there were concerns from half – or even a quarter – of a young, relatively small team, then stepping away from the rest of the season was the right thing to do. Football, of all sports, is one that demands full attention.
Davison’s recommendation was passed unanimously by Westfield’s school board Monday. The decision to cancel the season for a team that combines two districts was Westfield’s because it is the “lead” district in administering the team.
“I know the decision to not play the remaining varsity games in the season will be debated in circles in and beyond the boundaries of the Brocton and Westfield School Districts,” Davison stated. “I believe we had a hard choice, but made the right decision. I have spoken with parents, players and coaches over the last 13 days and all of those conversations were taken into consideration when making this recommendation. I would hope that adults would not place my decisions on the shoulders of young men who are already hurting. When our players step on the field again we want it to be when they are ready and on their terms.”
‘Q’ the QB
After struggling with its passing game in a loss to Aquinas in Week Two, Canisius put the ball in the hands of its outstanding running back – and they didn’t even have anyone hand it off to him.
Qadree Ollison, the senior who verbally committed to the University of Pittsburgh last week, played quarterback for Canisius on Saturday in its 14-0 home win over Walsh Jesuit of Ohio.
Ollison ran for 191 yards on 31 carries to become Canisius’ all-time leading rusher (3,129), but he also had this stat line: 1-of-6 passing for 11 yards with four interceptions.
After seeing Canisius’ loss at Aquinas, I thought the Crusaders might offer up something like this, because it’s something I’ve seen a bit of before. St. Francis had current Penn State running back Akeel Lynch either in a Wildcat formation (he attempted one pass) or taking handoffs for all but a handful of plays in a 42-27 victory at Bishop Timon-St. Jude two years ago, as Lynch ran for 381 yards and five touchdowns on 31 carries.
Perhaps Canisius will switch it up a bit when it plays at St. Francis on Friday night.
But with a high-level Division I running back, along with a defense that only allowed Walsh Jesuit 75 total yards in a significant win, I’m thinking we’ll see it again.